Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu


Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (born 12 February 1982), known by his stage name Bobi Wine, is a Ugandan musician, actor, businessman, politician and philanthropist. As of 11 July 2017, he serves as the member of parliament representing Kyaddondo East constituency in Wakiso District, in Uganda’s Central Region.[1]

Background and education

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu was born on 12 February 1982 in Nkozi Hospital, where his late mother worked.[2] He grew up in the Kamwookya slum in the northeastern part of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.[3]

Kyagulanyi attended Kitante Hill School, where he attained his Uganda Certificate of Education in 1996, as well as Kololo Senior Secondary School, where he attained his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education in 1998. He then attended Makerere University in Kampala, where he studied music, dance, and drama, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2003.[4][5]


Music career

Kyagulanyi began his music career in 1999, and adapted the stage name Bobi Wine. His first singles “Akagoma”, “Funtula”, and “Sunda” (featuring Ziggy D) brought him success in the East African music scene.[4] His music has been characterised as reggae, dancehall, and afrobeat, often with a socially conscious message. He was the leader of the group Fire Base Crew[6] until its disbandment, after which he started a new group known as Ghetto Republic of Uganja.[7] He has released more than 70 songs over 15 years.[4]

In 2016, his song “Kiwani” was featured on the soundtrack for the Disney movie Queen of Katwe.[8]

Film career

Wine is also a film actor, mainly starring in local Ugandan movies.[4] In 2010, he was cast in Cleopatra Koheirwe‘s drama film Yogera. In 2015, he was cast in a lead role in the Twaweza-supported film Situka with Hellen Lukoma.[9] He has also worked on a number of other films, including Divizionz.[10]

Political career

In April 2017, Kyagulanyi announced his candidacy for parliament in an upcoming by-election for the Kyaddondo East Constituency. His door-to-door walking campaign attracted attention both in Uganda and abroad.[7][11] He won the contest by a wide margin, beating two seasoned candidates: Sitenda Sebalu of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party and Apollo Kantinti of the main opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).[1][12][13]

In 2018, Kyagulanyi gained increasing fame, championing the victories in most of the by-elections by the candidates he campaigned for, thus beating out NRM and FDC candidates.

Arua by-election incident

On 14 August 2018, supporters of the independent candidate for parliament Kassiano Wadri allegedly obstructed and attacked President Yoweri Museveni‘s convoy in the northern town of Arua, near Gulu. Museveni’s motorcade was allegedly pelted with stones, leading to clashes between security forces and protesters.[14] Later, Kyagulanyi, an outspoken critic of Museveni, revealed through a social media post that police had intentionally shot at his vehicle, killing his driver. Kyagulanyi had endorsed Wadri’s candidacy against the official pro-Museveni candidate in Arua.[15]

Kyagulanyi was arrested on 15 August 2018 for possible charges of unlawful possession of firearms and incitement to violence,[16] after which he was brought in front of a military court and charged with the former the following day. The Times reported that Kyagulanyi appeared to have been beaten before appearing in court.[17] Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, a lawyer who has represented detained MPs, said that Kyagulanyi was in a worrying state of health and needed urgent medical attention.[18] The government has repeatedly denied allegations of torture. Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye called a press conference, where he demanded the MP’s immediate release.[19]

With popular protests growing in Uganda demanding Kyagulanyi’s release, and heated discussions in the Ugandan Parliament, the Ugandan State prosecution withdrew the charges filed during Kyagulanyi’s second appearance in front of the General Court Martial in Gulu on 23 August 2018. The prosecution indicated it would further pursue possible charges in a civilian court for a possible trial of the MP.[20] Upon release, Kyagulanyi was rearrested and charged with treason in a civilian court.[21] In September 2018, Kyagulanyi was released on bail and travelled to the United States for medical treatment for injuries he allegedly received in custody.[22] The Ugandan government banned his supporters from gathering on the day of his release, and on the day of his return from the United States.[22][23] He eventually addressed his supporters in a gathering outside his home upon his return to Uganda on 20 September 2018.[24]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

In August 2019, Kyagulanyi was charged with “intent to alarm, annoy or ridicule” President Museveni for his role in the Arua incident the previous year. The charges came a day after the death of Ziggy Wine, a fellow Ugandan musician and staunch critic of Museveni, who was kidnapped and tortured by unknown assailants.[25][26]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Anti-social media tax protest

On 22 April 2019, Kyagulanyi was detained while attempting to make his way to a planned concert at his private club in southern Kampala, which was cancelled by police.[27] He was accused of leading a protest in the city the previous year without prior police authorisation; the protest was held against the “social media tax” which took effect in July 2018.[28][29] On 29 April 2019, on his way to the offices of the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) to honour a summon and provide a statement on the cancelled concert, Kyagulanyi was again arrested and taken to Buganda Road Court, where he was charged with disobedience of statutory duty and remanded to Luzira Maximum Security Prison until his bail hearing on 2 May.[30] In a statement the following day, Amnesty International demanded his immediate release and urged the Ugandan government to “stop misusing the law in a shameless attempt to silence him for criticizing the government.”[31] On the day of the hearing, which was conducted via video conferencing (the first time in the history of Uganda’s justice system), Kyagulanyi was granted bail and released from prison, with the court also barring him from holding unlawful demonstrations.[32]

2021 presidential election

On 24 July 2019, Kyagulanyi formally announced his bid to run for President in the 2021 general election.[33]

Humanitarian work

Kyagulanyi has supported several practical projects to improve conditions for the poor.[3] In 2012, he started a campaign to promote more regular cleaning in hospitals, sanitation, garbage management, and hand washing to prevent disease.[34] A YouTube video from September 2012 shows him joining Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago in cleaning up Kamwookya, the slum neighborhood where Kyagulanyi grew up.[34] The same year, he also donated funds to build pit latrines and construct a drainage channel in Kisenyi II, a Kampala slum that the New Vision described as being “characterized by filth, crowded shanty structures, poor sanitation and lack of basic social facilities.” Kyagulanyi explained that he embarked on the project “because these are my people, and no matter where I go, this will always be home.”[3]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

He has also campaigned for malaria prevention, with donations to Nakasongola Health Centre, and references to the disease in his songs.[35]

In August 2013, Kyagulanyi visited the Bundibugyo Refugee Camp in Bundibugyo District, along with representatives from Save the Children, UNHCR, and the Red Cross, to deliver funds and supplies.[36] The following month, he was named as a parenting ambassador by Twaweza, an NGO that focuses on education and citizen engagement in East Africa; his message in this partnership was to promote responsible parenting among his Ugandan fans. In an interview about the project, he said that “education is what will ultimately change the course of our country and as an artiste and a father, I believe we can all make a difference in our children’s learning.”[37]

In 2014, Kyagulanyi was named as an ambassador for Save the Children’s EVERY ONE campaign, joining a team of 14 Ugandan artists who recorded a special song and video about maternal and child health. Other leading artists in the video included Jose Chameleone, and Radio and Weasel, who make up the Goodlyfe Crew.[38] Kyagulanyi and his wife Barbara travelled to hospitals throughout Uganda, including Nakaseke Hospital, meeting with midwives and health workers to popularize the campaign.[35] Save the Children also took him to other regions for the campaign, including Nyumanzi Refugee Settlement in northwestern Uganda for South Sudanese people.[39]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu


Wine is often outspoken about political and social issues in Uganda, generating some controversy. Until January 2019, he had a long-standing feud with fellow Ugandan musician Bebe Cool, who has sung in support of President Museveni and the NRM, while Kyagulanyi has supported opposition interests.[40][41]

In July 2014, it was announced that Wine was to perform in the United Kingdom at The Drum Arts Centre in Birmingham and the Troxy in London.[42] This led to calls for a ban because of his lyrics expressing opinions against homosexuality.[43] Both venues subsequently cancelled Wine’s appearances.[44][45] In a May 2016 Twitter exchange with ULC Monastery LGBTI, an American Christian group that promotes tolerance toward the LGBT community, Wine suggested that he had moved away from his previous homophobic comments, but did not specifically state that his views on homosexuality had changed.[46]

In 2015, Wine publicly defended the Buganda kingdom’s fundraising efforts as it was harshly criticized by the outspoken Sheikh Muzaata, stirring up a war of words.[47] Kyagulanyi has at times been known as Omubanda wa Kabaka (the king’s rogue) for his devotion to the Kabaka (King) of Buganda.[48]

In April 2016, when Uganda’s only radiotherapy machine in Mulago broke down, Wine took a leading position in widespread public anger at the slow official response, and posted a critique of the government’s handling of public health care, challenging the country’s leaders to make better use of citizens’ taxes.[49][50]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Throughout the 2015–16 election period, Wine refocused his messages to call for tolerance of different views.[51] Wine’s public calls for calm activism during the 2016 election, with songs such as “Dembe”, provoked mixed reactions from different political interests in Uganda. During this period, the Uganda Communications Commission denied that it had banned “Dembe” from Ugandan radio.[52] Three months after the election, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Deborah R. Malac invited Wine to a formal embassy event, and commented that he was a positive influence for local youth.[53]

When the Ugandan government turned off social media during the 2016 election, Wine used a virtual private network (VPN) to post on his defiance to the communications shutdown on his Facebook page while also pointing out that the government continued to use social media during the shutdown they initiated.[54][55] Bobi Wine was later chosen as a panelist to speak about freedom of expression on World Press Freedom Day in Kampala in May 2016.[56] In March 2016, his fans were surprised to hear him defend the right of his artistic rivals to express views that Wine himself does not support.[57]

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu

Personal life

Kyagulanyi met his wife, Barbara Itungo, while he was at Makerere University and she was an S6 student at Bweranyangi Girls’ Senior Secondary School. Their wedding took place in August 2011. They have four children together: Solomon Kampala Nyanzi, Shalom Namagembe, Shadraq Shilling Mbogo, and Suubi Shine Nakaayi.[58] Kyagulanyi and his family reside in Magere Village, Wakiso District, where he ensures they “go together to dig and get food, whenever we can. I do that because I want them to learn to live an ordinary life, not as a celebrity.s children.”[59]

On 10 February 2015, Kyagulanyi’s father Jackson Wellington Ssentamu passed away after a lengthy battle with diabetes.[60] The vigil and burial attracted hundreds of mourners including government officials and other celebrities.[61] One month later, Kyagulanyi released the song “Paradiso”, which carries the message of valuing your parents while they are still alive.[62]


Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Citation
2005 Pearl of Africa Music Awards Song of the Year “Mama Mbiire” (with Juliana Kanyomozi) Won [63]
2006 Pearl of Africa Music Awards Best Afro Beat Single “Bada” Won [64]
Artiste of the Year Bobi Wine Won
Tanzania Music Awards Best East African Album Mama Mbiire Nominated [65]
2007 Pearl of Africa Music Awards Best Afro Beat Single “Kiwani” Won [66]
Best Afro Beat Artiste/Group Bobi Wine Won
Kisima Music Awards Best Song Uganda “Bada” Nominated [67]
2008 Pearl of Africa Music Awards Best Afro Beat Artiste/Group Bobi Wine Won [68]
2009 MTV Africa Music Awards Best Video “Little Things You Do” (Wahu featuring Bobi Wine) Nominated [69]
2013 HiPipo Music Awards Artist of the Year Bobi Wine Nominated [70]
Best Male Artist Bobi Wine Nominated
Best Ragga/Dancehall Song “By Far” Nominated
Best Afrobeat Song “Jennifer” Won [71]
2018 Zzina Awards Afro-Beat Song of the Year “Kyarenga” Nominated [72]
Male Artiste of the Year Bobi Wine Won
Artiste of the Year Bobi Wine Nominated
Song of the Year “Kyarenga” Won

Other honours


Discography adapted from Spotify.[76]

  • 2015: Bobi Wange
  • 2015: Hosanah
  • 2015: Kansubize
  • 2015: Ontabira
  • 2015: Sweet
Singles and extended plays
  • 2015: “Ayagala Mulaasi”
  • 2017: “Freedom”
  • 2018: “Kyarenga”
  • 2019: “Tuliyambala Engule”




“Bobi Wine”. Spotify. Retrieved 8 October 2018.

Bobi Wine is the latest world figure featured in the Financial Times’ “Lunch with the FT” series. Over a shared meal and a stroll through Kamwokya, FT Africa editor David Pilling asks Bobi about his past, his future, his fears, and his aspirations:

Colors Jason Derulo


Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu


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